Jaguar drifted out of the Ford family a few years ago, and when it did, it declared its independence in a rather emphatic way--by pumping up the displacement of its V-8 engines to 5.0 liters, a displacement sure to have conjured some Mustang jokes back at the Dearborn corral.
The Mustang has nothing to worry about--it's Porsche and Maserati that have the most to fear from the latest XK coupes and convertibles, because the beautiful Jaguar now has ripe, bellowing performance that blows out the boulevardier image it cultivated in the Eighties and Nineties.
In the XK coupe and convertible, the V-8 throbs with 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. It combines fiercely with a ZF-built six-speed automatic transmission like the one in the equally gorgeous Maserati GranTurismo--it's the workhorse of luxury-car gearboxes. Jaguar quotes 0-60 mph times of 5.2 seconds for the coupe, a few ticks slower in the convertible. Mash the gas and the XK's vocal jolt sounds almost American--it has a muscular, NASCAR-ish exhaust rap that would confuse a blindfolded Shelby driver. Poking the throttle proves addictive, and the XK's automatic muscles off shifts almost as quickly as a dual-clutch gearbox. Sport and Snow shift modes are baked into the automatic's logic, but in Sport mode the XK's a little too jerky in part-throttle city driving.
Above all, the 2012 XK is a delight to drive. It's a rare machine that works ride magic, giving the right amount of relief on interstate cruises but tightening up its reflexes for flat cornering and good tracking when it's not in relaxed, grand-touring mode. Credit goes to the Adaptive Dynamics package, with adjustable shocks that do a fantastic job filtering out jarring abrasions and pockmarks on the road, without introducing too much body motion. The brakes are especially easy to modulate and communicate their own power well.
Take that performance and square it, and you've arrived at the XKR, an XK with a few thousand more BTUs on reserve. Supercharging blows it up to 510 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque, and 60-mph runs fall to just 4.6 seconds--and that's being conservative. This is one...hell...of a fast car, one that could loaf all day at 2500 rpm, with most of its max torque always a toe-reach away. The XKR's adaptive suspension is more tightly controlled--all the better to use up its 20-inch wheels and tires--and even more than the XK, the XKR is ready and willing to overpower its tires any time you are.
Need more? Then sample the limited-edition XKR-S, the Jaguar that goes where no Jaguar has gone before. With the XKR coupe's kit as a starting point, Jaguar tweaks fuel delivery and lifts some of the restrictions on the exhaust system to lift total output to 550 horsepower. New estimates put 0-60 mph times at 4.2 seconds, and top speed at 186 mph. The adaptive suspension is reprogrammed for more damping in dynamic mode, along with quicker shifts and sharper throttle response, while spring rates are up 28 percent. The active differential modulates power between wheels as traction needs arise, and this version gets its own steering geometry for claimed improvements in steering response and precision. Finally, the Jaguar four-mode stability control is remapped for more wheelspin, a complement to the exhaust valving that gives this XK a roaring motorsports soundtrack.
If you thought the XKR was the incomparable peak of power, wait until you hear the XKR-S bellow through its mostly unrestricted exhaust. We're not sold on the steering changes, but the unflappable XK chassis feels even more so in this very exclusive edition, vaulting it into collectible status just as quickly as it catapults off the line, and around the most treacherous of sunny-then-shady California switchbacks. You'll choke at your own price limits before you exhaust the ones that bind the XKR-S to the street.